After wrecking my poor Ford Mustang Fastback during the last round of the Midas Historic Tour, I was left carless for this year’s Q8 9-Hour Retro at Kyalami. Fortunately The Mayor of Greenside – Colin Kean from Carcol Executive Auto – came to the rescue by offering me a seat in his silver Mercedes-Benz 280CE.
Not one to turn a good drive down, I gratefully accepted and arrived at the track on Friday afternoon for a little free practice. Immediately feeling at one with the car in question, I racked up a few flying laps and finished the day with my racing mojo restored. This was, after all, the first time I’d been back on a race circuit since my smash with Ross Lazarus at Midvaal Raceway.
Returning to Kyalami early on Saturday morning, Mr. Kean and I limbered up for the three-hour event by each taking part in one Marque Car heat. With the 280CE living up to its reputation as the ‘Stuttgart Steamer,’ we sledge-hammered through the field and eventually finished third overall. Our celebrations were short-lived, however, as the powers-that-be had beef with us sharing the driving. Fortunately this wouldn’t be an issue during the 180-minute endurance race that would push both man and machine to the very limit.
After qualifying in 36th position (out of a field of 53) I volunteered to drive the opening stint. Taking to the grid with fresh tyres and a fuel tank filled to the brim, my plan was to go on the offensive and climb up through the field. And climb I did. Benefitting from the bite of new rubber and our recently stripped interior – removing the passenger and rear seats shed at least 20 kilograms – I managed to pass the likes of Franco Resca, Vic Peachy and Brian Hastie to eventually settle down in 28th place. From here on in I was involved in an ongoing and very exciting scrap with Steven Colloty in his rapid Datsun SSS.
After almost 1h45m behind the wheel, the pit crew called me in for the mandatory driver change and a quick refuel. All gassed up and ready to go, Kean then got down to business by clocking in some incredibly consistent lap times despite deteriorating semi-slick tyres, a bug-smeared windscreen and a blinding twilight sun hindering progress all the way from the Sunset Sweep through to Wesbank Corner. Thanks to a high attrition rate and the 280CE putting on a flawless performance – a testament to Mercedes-Benz reliability – Kean crossed the finish line in 11th overall. We also came third in class and seventh in the overall index of performance.
But we weren’t the only Benz drivers with good reason to celebrate. Indeed, the other Carcol-backed car of Jesse Adams and Stuart Grant (a beige 1976 280E) finished 7thoverall behind the Porsche 911 RS of Patrick and Karen Godard. The duo also came second in class and third in the index of performance stakes. Further down the grid the last of the Stuttgart machines – an earlier 1972 280E – driven by the trio of Alan Grant, Graham Grant and Fred Phillips topped proceedings off nicely by finishing a respectable 22nd. Not too shabby considering that they started the race from the back of the grid.
“To me it’s not about the positions,” commented a jubilant Kean after a hectic day of racing. “I’m just thrilled that all of the cars finished without any serious mechanical issues. Not bad for some old taxis, hey?!” Not bad at all, sir, not bad at all. Here’s hoping that we can do it all again in 2012…